Excel Online: News and Updates, Summer 2018
Published Aug 07 2018 11:41 AM 20.7K Views
Copper Contributor

If it’s been a few years since you used Excel Online, get ready to be impressed. Over the past couple of years, the app has transformed from a simple report-viewing tool into a spreadsheet editor that you can use from any computer with an internet connection.


Here’s every feature that’s been added to Excel Online since March 2016. Lots of screenshots are included, so go to Excel Online, log in with your Microsoft Office account, whip up a spreadsheet and follow along.




The Excel Online interface has come a long way, making it easier for users to see, find, and work with their data. Here are the ways that you can customize the interface but couldn’t back in 2016.

Adjusting Rows and Columns

You can now adjust row height and column width from the context menu. Just right-click on a row or column label, and you’ll see the option.


Change column widthChange column width

Click “Row Height” or “Column Width,” enter a new value, and the selected row or column is adjusted.


A valuable benefit of this is, that you can now select multiple rows or columns and set them all to a specific height or width with just a few clicks.

Column Width Tooltip

If you want to resize a row or column without using the context menu, you can just grab the border and drag it to the desired size.


Microsoft recently added a great new feature for when you’re dragging a column to a new size: a tooltip that displays the column width.


Drag column witdhDrag column witdh 

If you know how wide you want the column to be, or you’d like to make different columns the same width, this makes it much easier.

Duplicate Sheet

In previous editions of Excel Online, if you wanted to duplicate a sheet, you’d have to create a new sheet and then copy and paste data from the original sheet.


Now, you can just right-click a sheet tab and select Duplicate.


Duplicate sheetDuplicate sheet 

A new sheet will appear that is an exact copy of the first. At the moment, sheets with charts, images, or shapes can’t be duplicated. We certainly hope this functionality will be added soon!


Change Sheet Tab Color

Working on spreadsheets with a large number of sheets can be difficult. Fortunately, Excel Online now lets you change the color of a sheet tab so you can find it quickly or categorize your sheets.


Just right-click on the sheet tab, mouse over Tab Color, and select the color you’d like.


Change sheet tab colorChange sheet tab color

Your sheet tab will now be highlighted with the selected color.


Change sheet tab colorChange sheet tab color


Freeze Panes

When you’re working with lots of data in the desktop version of Excel, Freeze Panes is one of the most useful tools to know. By freezing the top row, your column headings are always visible.


You can now freeze any number of columns or rows in Excel Online, too. Just click into a cell and click View > Freeze Panes > Freeze Panes to freeze everything above and to the left of it.


Freeze panesFreeze panes

You can also select View > Freeze Panes > Freeze Top Row or Freeze First Column for the most commonly used freeze pane commands.



It’s hard to call an app a spreadsheet editor when the formatting tools are limited. Over the past couple of years, Excel Online has gained several formatting options, giving it nearly as much power as the desktop app.

Changes in the Ribbon

Much of the added formatting power comes from new options in the Ribbon.


The Home tab now gives you access to a full selection of formatting options that you’ve become accustomed to in the full desktop version of Excel.


You can quickly select a number formatting options from the Number drop-down to format your number as a percentage, currency, date, or other options.


Currency and accounting formats and alignment options are also available from the same part of the Home tab.


Many of Excel’s text-formatting options are also easily available at the click of a button. For example, additional typeface formatting options like double-underline and strikethrough are easily accessible in the Font area.


More number formats are available from the number formatting drop-down in the center of the Home tab.


More number formatsMore number formats

A full selection of border types, merging and unmerging, increasing and decreasing indentation, font size, and other formatting options are available for both numbers and text as well.


Additionally, Microsoft added the Most Recently Used split button to the Borders, Fill Color, and Font Color buttons in Excel Online.


MRU split buttonsMRU split buttons

When you set a color or a border from these buttons Excel Online will now remember it, so you can just click the button to apply it somewhere else.

Shapes and Pictures

When Excel Online was a simple spreadsheet viewer, there was no way to insert shapes or pictures into a spreadsheet. The new version of Excel Online changes that.


The Insert tab now prominently features buttons for inserting pictures and shapes - and the menu of shapes contains just about any shape you could ever need.


Insert shapesInsert shapes

It’s easy to click and drag the image or shape into place, and the rotation handle lets you rotate it into any orientation you’d like. Also, you can now change the shape and border color, and dimensions (width and length).


Rotate shapeRotate shape

Conditional Formatting

By changing the format of a subset of cells, conditional formatting makes it easy to highlight the cells you want based on what they contain.


Conditional formatting tools are now prominently displayed in the Home tab.


Conditional formattingConditional formatting

Just select the data you want to format, click Conditional Formatting, and select the formatting you’d like to apply. Here’s what it looks like when we apply Highlight Cells Rules > Above Average.


Highlight cells above averageHighlight cells above average


Excel has long been a data-analysis powerhouse, and Excel Online has caught up with its desktop-based older brother when it comes to analysis capabilities. From the most basic to the more complex, Excel Online can handle your data-analysis requests.


When you have a lot of data, being able to effectively filter it down to the information you want to see is crucial. The Data tab now hosts a Filter button that enables column-based filtering, just like in the desktop version of Excel.



The in-spreadsheet dropdown doesn’t contain individual-value filtering, but if you click Filter, you’ll see the familiar options for viewing only certain values.


Filter optionsFilter options 

Pivot Tables

Long considered one of Excel’s most powerful data-analysis features, pivot tables give you powerful summaries of your data.


Before Excel Online supported pivot tables, the desktop version of Excel was considered to be vastly superior - but now that you can insert a pivot table from the Insert tab with just a few clicks, the web-based version is gaining ground.


Insert pivot tableInsert pivot table

Browser-based pivot tables are just as powerful as their offline brethren.


Pivot tables can’t currently be used over data model connections, but if you’re just using a standard spreadsheet in Excel Online, you can use them to gain powerful insights into your data.


Beyond pivot tables, Excel Online now gives you the power to work more effectively with regular tables as well.


When having a table in your spreadsheet, you can include additional rows or columns in your table by right-clicking.


Insert columns in a tableInsert columns in a table

The context menu also lets you delete rows and columns with a single click.


Another new feature is the ability to navigate through the table by pressing the Tab key on your keyboard, so you can navigate to the cells you want faster than ever without using your mouse.



Perhaps the most useful feature that Excel Online brings to the table is collaboration. Instead of emailing files back and forth with other Office users, you can have an entire group of people working on a document in real time.

From Viewing to Editing

Making the change from a spreadsheet viewer to editor required Microsoft to make some big changes in the backend functionality of the app.


For example, previous versions of Excel Online couldn’t open protected workbooks. The latest version has no problem opening or editing these protected files.


Previous versions also couldn’t edit files that contained cropped images—which made it difficult to collaborate with people on files that included images.


Now, however, Excel Online has no problem editing files with cropped images.


The same is true of files that contain grouped shapes or images.


Excel Online has also seen some additional performance upgrades. You can now work with Excel files of up to 30MB if you have OneDrive for Business. That’s three times the previous limit, giving you much more flexibility with your files.


And Excel Online has been upgraded with more power, so page load times will be lower and you’ll see improved interactivity from the app itself.


Silent Reopen

Your Excel Online session can end while you still have your file open. And in previous versions of Excel Online, you’d have to wait until your browser reconnected to the service to start working on the spreadsheet.


Now, however, you can start working on the file while your browser reestablishes the connection. It might not seem like much, but it eliminates a potentially annoying wait when you’re trying to get work done.

Real-Time Coauthoring

With the Share button, you can share your Excel Online spreadsheet with other users, and everyone can edit the document at the same time.


Share buttonShare button

From here, you can choose who you’ll invite to your spreadsheet and select if they’ll be able to edit it or view it only.


Invitation settingsInvitation settings

You can also tick an option that forces the invited to log in to their Office account before they can view or edit the spreadsheet.


When you’ve shared your file, you’ll see who’s editing, which cell they have selected, and the exact changes that they make.


See who’s editingSee who’s editing

You can also leave comments to each other and chat while you’re editing right in Excel Online.


And with a built-in Skype messenger, you can chat with your contacts in the same window as your spreadsheet:


Built-in Skype messengerBuilt-in Skype messenger


In addition to the features above, Microsoft has made numerous small changes that improve user experience in Excel Online. Some of them might seem very minor, but they all add up to create a better spreadsheet editing app.

Drag Scroll Beyond Viewport

In early versions of Excel Online, if you clicked on a cell and dragged the selection to the bottom (or right side) of the viewport, the selection would stop there—you couldn’t scroll.


Now, you can click and drag to scroll and select as many cells as you want.


A new print dialog can be accessed from the File tab of the Ribbon. This dialog gives you more options to help you get a better print of your spreadsheet.


Print dialog boxPrint dialog box

Choose what you print, how you print it, and what you print it on with ease.

Excel Surveys

Excel Online now includes the ability to create online forms that you can use to collect and analyze survey information. Just go to the Home Tab, click Survey, and select New Survey.


Excel surveysExcel surveys

Then enter your survey questions.


Edit Excel surveyEdit Excel survey

After that, you can share your survey and all results will be immediately imported into Excel Online, so you can analyze and share them.


The Accessibility Checker tells you when users with disabilities might find your document hard to read and how you can fix the issues. There are improved screen reader support and a new high-contrast mode for visually impaired users, too.


Excel Online also has the same “Tell me what you want to do” feature that desktop versions have, making it easier for people who aren’t familiar with Excel to find what they want. And with improved keyboard shortcuts for getting around the app, it’s more accessible for everyone.



The browser-based version of Excel is a great spreadsheet editor, and it’s come a long way from the days when it was simply a viewing tool. Today, you can use it for many of the things that earlier was only possible from the desktop version of Excel.


It’s now super easy for the people who create spreadsheets to share them with those who need to read and use them. With a few clicks, documents can be shared in view or edit mode, and users can communicate with real-time comments and Skype chats.


Sharing and collaboration have never been easier. And with new features and increased accessibility, Excel Online is quickly becoming almost as powerful as its desktop equivalent.


If it’s been a while since you’ve used Excel Online, it’s time to get reacquainted.



This guide is written by Kasper Langmann.
Kasper is a Microsoft Office Specialist, and co-founder of Spreadsheeto; one of the largest Excel blogs on the web.
To learn more about the tabletop version of Excel, read his more than 100 blog posts, and grow your skills with free and paid Excel training on Spreadsheeto.com.

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